by Ray Beimel
I am an Eagle Scout. I was involved with Boy Scouting for 18 years. I went to a World Jamboree. I was a member of the Order of the Arrow. I worked on the staff at Camp Mountain Run for two years. I was on many 50 mile hikes and a couple of 50 mile canoe trips. People sometimes ask what was the best part of all that. Read on to find out.
In 1973 I was the Field Sports Director at Camp Mountain Run. Those were halcyon days, sleeping in a tent, working outdoors, spending my hours doing enjoyable things with like-minded folks. Each week followed a pattern. Sunday night was the welcome campfire, Wednesday the chicken barbecue, Friday the Order of the Arrow tapouts. But one night stood out from the the others. That was Spook Hollow night. This Camp Mountain Run tradition was a creation of Charlie Snyder, the camp ranger. Any campers who dared to come along met at the gate on the dirt road that led up toward the Boone Mountain fire tower.
A few of the staff workers were there to help keep order. They told the campers to make sure their shoes were tightly tied and that their flashlights were working. Then Charlie would drive up accompanied by two of the older staff members. His arrival always got attention because the two guys with him were armed. One was carrying a shotgun; the other had a bolt action rifle. That was me with the rifle. Charlie toted a Coleman lantern and led the group up the old road. The other staffers would tell the campers to be quiet on the walk. It was dark and most people feel some primal apprehension in the woods at night. Charlie hadn’t said a word yet and already the stage was set to put the campers on edge.
When the group got to a place where there was a grassy bank along the road, Charlie would stop and tell the campers to take a seat there. Everyone sat down except Charlie and the two guys with the guns. The lantern was set on the ground. All the flashlights were out. Charlie was in the circle of light, the armed guys were back in the shadows but still visible. He started his stories by noting how quiet it was, how you could no longer hear the gurgling of the stream that paralleled the road. From there he went on to speak of the many strange things that happened in that area. There was the mystery of the panther’s behavior in Lambskin Hollow. He spoke of the strange beasts from old Indian legends, among them the Hodag, the most feared creature of the north woods. And there was the story of the odd character called Hatchet Hands, a poor cripple whose misshapen hands gave him that nickname. Ridicule had driven him to being a bad tempered recluse. Seldom seen but always wearing a long raincoat and a slouch hat, he was often accompanied by a large white dog whose eyes glowed red in the light.
Then he became a bit more solemn as he spoke of his experiences there in years past. He told of being there with Bill Shobert and John Kriner, old Scouters, one from St. Marys, the other from DuBois. He said they felt a strange chill in the air as they walked up the road past the place where the campers were sitting. An unexplainable paralysis hit them and they felt they were in great danger even though they could see nothing. Whatever it was struck all three at once. They all had the same unnamed dread, a consuming fear even as they could see nothing and could only hear the chill wind blowing down the hollow. The three retreated from that spot and talked about what they felt. Kriner and Shobert decided they would return in the daylight and place a can in that area that had a substantial sum of money in it. It was there for anyone who could go up into the hollow at night and retrieve it. To this time, no one had ever succeeded.
Charlie then asked if there was anyone in the group who wanted to attempt to get the can. Often enough a volunteer would step forward, usually a kid around 12 or 13, never one of the 11 year olds. Charlie would ask the kid some questions about his health, wanting to make sure that he was up to the challenge. Then Charlie turned to the group on the bank and advised them to stay still and quiet but if they heard gunfire to immediately head back to camp. Then the kid making the attempt, Charlie, and the two staff members with the guns started up the road. They walked maybe 50 yards until Charlie stopped. He told the kid that he wouldn’t go any further but if the kid just kept going straight ahead, soon enough he would see the can. As the kid took his first hesitant step up the road, Charlie would say loud enough for the kid to hear, “you guys should lock and load.” The kid heard the distinctive sound of the pump action of the shotgun being worked and then the characteristic four part click of a bolt action rifle chambering a round.
The faint beam of the kid’s flashlight slowly going away from us showed where he was. Usually he got 30 or 40 feet away before his nerve failed. The kid would turn and start running back. That would be the signal for us to fire a few shots in the air. And that was the signal that sent all the kids on the bank running back toward camp. Everyone was running except Charlie and the guys with the guns. We walked back slowly by the light of the Coleman lantern accompanied by the sounds of Charlie chuckling and dozens of sneakers pounding down a dirt road.
Being trusted by Charlie to carry the rifle: that’s the best thing I did in Scouting.